For 14 years I have been a corporate trouble shooter, the one brought in to figure out what is broken, to tell people what is wrong, to clean up a mess, to get people through gut-wrenching change. My job does not have quite the “glamour” of George Clooney in the recent movie, Up in the Air. I do not fire people and I do not leave once the plan is developed. Nevertheless, my outsider and fixer experience has given me insights into three truths about change and the change process.
1. Change will happen and some people will lose.
Normally, I am involved in environments where events are politically charged and emotionally intense – where the consequences of not changing the status quo far exceed any pain from change. I am usually the person asking everyone to take off the rose colored glasses and see the world as it really is. I have been called the doctor, the rock at the bottom of a stormy sea. But, I cannot stop the change, even when I want to. Quite often bad things happen to good people. Change happens all the time and always will happen. And change is not always in the best interest of everyone. Some people will lose. But, without the change, everyone would lose.
2. People respect authenticity.
Your employees, your team members, all of us, know truth. So when you talk genuinely to your people, they will know. And that will make all the difference. This does not mean you can save someone’s job, keep their job from changing, keep someone from getting moved across the country, or change the hierarchy in an organization. But, you can, without any cost, respect each person and be straight with them. This candor takes guts. They may not like you for what you have to do or what you have to say, but they will respect the honesty and dignity of how you did it. This brings me to my third, perhaps most radical truth about change.
3. Dignity is paramount.
You can get any change done if at the core of everything you think and act with dignity. Relationships make or break any business, and dignity is the DNA of relationships. Treating everyone with dignity has not historically been a hot topic at the country’s top management schools or spoken aloud in corporate board rooms or executive offices. In practice, however, relationships and dignity are essential to making the most difficult changes and minimizing the fall-out from the changes. But, you cannot give dignity and respect for the employee mere lip service; it needs to be authentic.
The repercussions from change are diverse and long-lasting, which is why many organizations do not accurately see the connection between poor change – where people are neither respected nor told the truth – and dignified change. Yes, these truths about change may seem obvious, even self-evident. Yet, few try to employ them and even fewer succeed. As such, these three truths about change and the change process remain hidden from many managers. Nevertheless, these truths remain profound.
Howard Perlstein is a consultant specializing in Business Transformation and Process and Operational Excellence. Howard welcomes your comments and feedback. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.